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STEM events raise equality concerns

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A new study by Oxbridge researchers reveals that women’s voices are not being heard at STEM events.

The team of scientists from Oxford and Cambridge universities looked at the number of questions delegates asked at a major  conference, the 2015 International Congress for Conservation Biology. It found that, taking into account the representation differentials, men asked 80% more questions than women over the four day event.

Whether down to the fact that women are more assured and don’t need to ask questions, or because gender inequalities – more generally – are affecting confidence levels, the bottom line, the researchers say, is it could be a contributing factor to the continuing male dominance of the academic sphere.

Dr Alison Johnston, senior author of the study, said: “We want our research to inspire conference organisers to encourage participation among all attendees. For example, questions over Twitter or other creative solutions could be tested. Session chairs could also be encouraged to pick participants that represent the gender in the audience. However, these patterns of behaviour we observed are only a symptom of the bigger issue. Addressing this alone will not solve the problem. We should continue to research and investigate the underlying causes, so we can implement actions that change the bigger picture for women in science. If we are to level the playing field for women in STEM the complex issue of gender inequality has to stay on the agenda.”

Katherine Manuel, Senior Vice President, Innovation, Thomson Reuters, wrote about STEM-related gender inequality in the latest edition of Innovators Magazine, highlighting the strategies which are – and need to be – implemented to end the disparity. Read the online version here.

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